[box]For my sister, who prefers to listen to stories rather than read them, there is a podcast below.[/box]
If it took 5 hours to hike 8 miles, you know the terrain was technically challenging. I can run 8 miles comfortably well inside of 80 minutes nowadays, on the routes around home. That would be either barefoot or wearing my Luna sandals, depending on the current level and distance on roughness I have adapted to. It even includes hills sometimes, and all at an elevation near 3000 feet above sea level. I had run 8 miles the morning we left for camping. This may have been an error in judgement.
The hike to Six Lakes Basin was presented to me as a short morning hike to see some pretty lakes. The signs and map said 4 miles in. I would make it to the first lake in the basin, but not without moaning and pain. True, some of it was psychological pain. I hate being last, but when it comes to doing things with Wild Greg and his minions, keeping up is an illusion at best. On this trip he only took 3 minions, the 3 youngest daughters, ages 19 – 24. They have been calling themselves minions well before it was popularized, because of the use of the word in books they have read.
Sometimes all of them would wait for me with the irritating cheerfulness of people who never seem to get out of breath. Other times they would say well-meaning things such as, “You’re in great shape! You can do it!” As anyone who is feeling oxygen deprivation loves to hear. Meanwhile, my legs were cramping or I was doing a wobbly dance over loose shale that was part of a slide on the 60° slope. (click on any photo to enlarge)
It all started back at Black Lake, a remote lake in Idaho, about 40 miles northwest of Council, Idaho. This is not a straight 40 miles. The first few miles are on a paved back country highway, which is lined with an odd assortment of non-official signs declaring that it is NOT Highway 95. Highway 95 exits Council in the other direction.
This road is Moser Road, but then a right turn and a left turn get you onto Council Cuprum Road, which follows Hornet Creek. This soon devolves into a 25 mph gravel road passing through a rural neighborhood of mixed character. Several of the landowners chose to build their houses about 3 feet from the road and are apparently going for the hilly-billy-shoot-them-if-they-look-at-you-cross-eyed atmosphere. One sign says something like “GRANDMA HAS HER OWN WAY OF DEALING WITH SPEEDING.” The caps were in the original. When we smiled and waved, going by at the speed limit, our greeting was received with a scowl. One could suppose that they don’t know what 25 mph hour looks like; or they want to make passersby feel as unwelcome (and nervous) as possible.
Okay. It all may have started way before Black Lake. The trip started getting significantly more stressful after we passed through the Signs of Intimidation, and turned onto the Road Not Recommended for Passenger Cars.” I contend that what they meant to say was “Not Recommended for Passengers.” The narrow, rutted, rocky road was so frequently on the edge of a precipitous drop that the minions were banned from saying the word “cliff” anymore. On more than one occasion, we would drive up a rise in the road and not be able to tell if and where the road went next. I knew it was extreme when Wild Greg would stop the vehicle and try to peer over the dashboard to determine if there was a turn at the dip.
There was some comic relief when we began to have to stop every mile or so to pick up a piece of someone’s camping gear from the middle of the road. We left the first item, a small tent in a bag, not really understanding what was going on. However, 2 large red sleeping bags, 1 hardshell case with a spendy bow and arrows, and a couple of thick bike cables later, we were hoping they would notice their loss soon. Our Suburban had already been packed floor to ceiling before those additions. We left behind the chunks of firewood that they were leaving as bread crumbs, but fortunately not any so big as to make our progression any more difficult.
I will say that at this point in the cliff-hanger, having 6 pillows piled on my lap was comforting. The minions in the back seat were well padded with the orphaned sleeping bags, albeit now prematurely covered with camping dirt. Wild Greg watched the road carefully for panicked campers returning on the one lane road in the opposite direction.
When we were nearly to the Black Lake campground, a red pick-up truck with scary-big tires came tearing into view with a cloud of dust. They seemed to be motioning for us to get out of their way, but Wild Greg calmly stopped the car and stepped into the road between the vehicles, while motioning for them to approach. We made the transfer of goods with less thanks than I would have expected. They may still have been highly focused on finding the tent.
After all the desolate driving, not seeing anyone else other than a father and son on an ATV, we were surprised to find a very established campground full of people at the lake. One could easily imagine how rumors of elves in the woods get started. Except these “elves” had pick-up trucks and dogs. Wild Greg said that was quite a change from when he had seen it 20 years ago. Still, he and his minions managed to scout out a private camp site on the other side of the lake, by traversing an even more questionable road. The rest of us got out to walk, so as to make the car as light as possible for Wild Greg to maneuver. It was a much nicer location than the side-by-side campsites, and particularly nicer than the last available spot next to the outhouse.
Some pre-prepared hot potato soup and a good night’s sleep helped replenish me. I slept soundly all night, except for when Wild Greg’s snoring sounded like a bear growling, first in my dreams, then as I lay in the dark trying to figure out if something was trying to get into the tent. Bears had been mentioned when we had passed signs to the likes of Huckleberry Campground and Bear Creek the day before.
The next morning, having not been eaten by a bear after all (although one was seen up close by a minion the next day), I finished my fried egg and ham on an English muffin as I listened to Wild Greg and his minions discuss where to hike that day. They passed the forest service map around and I heard comments about mileages and elevations. They reached a consensus, deciding to hike to Six Lakes Basin.
I have hiked many places in my life, having been introduced to back packing at around the age of 10. In all those subsequent 44 years, no one has asked me to be in charge of a hike. I suspect this may have something to do with my poor sense of direction. Still, I know a lot about trails and have certain expectations. Whoever blazed this trail broke several rules. For one thing, the trail predominantly went straight up the side of the first mountain. By the end of the first mile, I was repenting any bad attitude I had ever had about switchbacks. Switchbacks are your friends. Temporary though it may be, they often provide a little space of semi-flatness. The incline on this trail was steep enough that the back muscles of one leg were tightening in an ominous way.
When the trail had some level areas, it was often an awkward narrow trench between two walls of weeds, weeds that started at knee level and reached to my armpits. Or, it was loose sharp rock in the middle of a rock slide waiting to continue to happen. If I hadn’t had the balance and foot flexibility afforded by my Luna sandals, I would have been in more distress. I kept trying to remember what my sister had said just before I left for camping: “Remember. Camping is fun!” I wondered what she does when camping.
Things started getting better when Wild Greg stopped leaving me behind. Being last always leaves me with some, though probably irrational, fears of being lost. This trail was not always clearly marked, and when the 4 of them would disappear around a corner, my heart rate would spike. I try not to feel sorry for myself, but you try hiking with 3 athletic minions, and a man with the genetically endowed lung capacity of a race horse! He hadn’t even been exercising much lately. Even though the altitude had started at 6600 feet and gone up, I seemed to be the only one who had been forced to notice.
But, as I was saying, things got adjusted. Wild Greg hung back with me after setting up rendezvous details with the minions. The upside of this was I no longer had to strain my compromised leg to keep up. I even stopped and enjoyed some of the wild flowers for a few seconds here and there. Wild Greg put on a good show of patience with my pace, and he even initiated some of the botany observations.
The downside was that the minions would rest in some shade until I caught up. Then, we would ALL keep going. And going. Over one summit, across the side of another mountain, and through another summit pass.
At last, we arrived at Six Lakes Basin. You could tell because there were several small lakes all right next to each other. It was a little disappointing that fire had destroyed many of the surrounding trees, however, if the trees had been green, we probably wouldn’t have been able to see all the lakes as well. As it was, I saw 5 of them right away coming over that last summit. We proceeded down another slippery rock, loose dirt path, with me trying not to do a face plant. Two of the light-footed minions were wearing the same model of sandals as me, so I knew faster was possible. I attribute at least part of their speed to lack of life injuries. Wild Greg just doesn’t care about blood and pain and scars.
Before long, we were all dipping our feet in the cool lake water. I was fairly satisfied with the whole hike, until Wild Greg asked the minions, “Who wants to go explore the other lake?” It seemed I wasn’t even going to get a vote. I thought I might cry, but held my peace. I was relieved when Wild Greg mentioned something about one of them starting back to camp with me. I assured him that I could follow the trail by myself for about half way. He wanted to believe me, but I could see the skepticism in his blue eyes. Still, both of us could tell that none of the minions wanted to miss out on seeing the other lakes they had traveled so far to get close to. I added that if I didn’t know which way to go, I would stop and wait. Partially in response the lack of belief I saw in his expression (he is a man of few words), I modified that to admitting I would stop IF I noticed there were choices. I have a reputation for not noticing forks in the trail… In the end, he handed me his heretofore secret emergency whistle with attached compass, giving me a quick review on the sun’s relative position.
I was feeling fairly cheered, again, until Wild Greg noted aloud that we had hiked 2 and 1/2 hours! With my legs already periodically trembling under their effort, the idea of another 2 and 1/2 hours was daunting. I tried to put it out of my mind and just take one step at a time.
As I walked along at my own tedious and embarrassingly slow pace, I entertained myself by attempting estimates of how many miniature grasshoppers were popping around me with each step. I wondered at the lack of directional aptitude of crickets, as the large, grotesque black bugs seemed to flail in mid air when they jumped. I contemplated my utter aloneness, being past the one summit and on the side of a mountain completely out of communication and no signs of other humans anywhere. I scanned the region for predators and hoped they were all taking their afternoon naps. I snapped a few photos of wild flowers and considered the possibility of giving them names I chose, instead of those in books.
Just as I was approaching the second summit, I was surprised to hear Wild Greg call out to me from a little ways below. He had left the minions far behind and was trotting energetically up (and I do mean UP) the mountain trail to find me. He sweetly said he had been worried about me. He commented that I looked relaxed. That was partly because I was going my own pace and was ahead of everyone. It was also because I was planning a short rest period at the top of this coming summit. I remembered that after that the trail would be much harder to follow and I thought they might arrive after a pleasant rest time for me.
I must have already appeared refreshed enough to him, because I had only been sitting on my small jagged rock for about 60 seconds when he told me I should get started on the next section. Phooey. When I expressed my concerns, he pointed out some landmarks below and said, “Just basically head that way.” So, I did.
I absolutely lost my way and there was no trail in sight by the time I was 2/3rds of the way down the mountain. Fortunately, I could still get glimpses of the points of interest enough to aim for Black Lake. I was getting very tired, though, and my gait was increasingly awkward and deteriorating. I tried to keep my muscles from cramping or pulling by walking as loosely as possible, which evolved into swinging my arms and legs from a hunched core unit. I may have looked like a zombie. In a baby pink Coco Beach baseball hat. Maybe the hat would soften the terrifying visual impact?
Finally, I entered one short portion of trail with a huge, dead tree trunk that I remembered. It was still standing upright. Its remaining branches curled off of the top and were decorated with wisps of drying green moss, like a bad perm. Someone had carved a whimsical square window in the trunk. It was too high to peep into, and made one wonder what was peeping out.
Walking in my Luna sandals, with no one to talk to, I was pretty quiet. So quiet that a resting
unicorn mountain goat did not hear me coming until I was within about 20 feet of it. Since I did not know it was there in the shrubs either, it was a thrill in more than one way to see it spring up and run away into the woods. I was tempted to follow it, like any good princess lost in the fairy woods, but I wasn’t sure how magical the whistle was.
It wasn’t long until 2 of the minions found me, because apparently I actually was on the trail right then. In another short while, we 3 made it to camp and I collapsed into a chair. Wild Greg had run back to give moral support to the 3rd minion, whose feet were slightly bruised after a period of extended running up the mountain. Poor minion, but they made it back and the minions celebrated victory in the camp.
I stayed in my chair almost exclusively for 4 hours. I was fed and offered liquids regularly. In the background, I could hear Wild Greg and his minions planning a hike for the next day, but I ignored them as best I could. I was so stiff every time I got up, I might not be able to walk in the morning anyway.
I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or sad when I woke the next morning feeling a bit sore, but basically limber. I put on my good attitude and asked what I needed to be ready for, and when. The oldest minion said, “Hike in 30 minutes!” But Wild Greg spoke up from where he was washing the breakfast dishes.
“I’m not sure I’m ready to take your mother on another Death March.” That is the fond description the minions have given to all the hikes with their father, but in my case it was a more accurate description. There was consternated chattering among the minions that boiled down to them denying that anyone came close to dying. Wild Greg countered,
“But none of you were considering throwing yourself over the side of the cliff to end your pain.”
I looked up at him quickly, expostulating, “I never vocalized that!” But I could tell that he knew I had thought it. Even if it was just dark humor to get me through the hardest parts, he also knew that I had hiked hard.
I was left at the campsite with strict orders to have fun doing things like playing my flute and crocheting. I was told I could go on very short walks, but not too far. I was prohibited from getting lost. They even asked if they should leave the
magic emergency whistle with me, but I thought they should take it. Most importantly, they left me most of the snacks.
Rebuttals can be heard at the end of the podcast.
Below, you can listen to the above story read aloud. It is in 2 parts. First, Part 1:
And now, Part 2: